Every program of conditioning needs an appropriate battery of fitness tests to allow for effective and productive fitness testing. Fitness testing is essential if you're going to know both your starting point and the point at which you've become successful in reaching the goals of your program. Fitness testing is also needed if you are intending to ensure you're on the right track in the first place.

The aim of this post is to present the factors surrounding military fitness testing; what are the most effective military fitness tests and how do you design Military fitness testing protocol?

Military Fitness Testing

What is the purpose of fitness testing?

All Strength and Conditioning programs are based on clear and precise testing procedures before, during and after the specific program of training. All programs will themselves have specific fitness tests allowing for a specific fitness test to be administered in a specific way.

A good standard procedure to perform fitness testing is the following 5 step method:
  1. Define program objectives - This gives direction to your program and must be as specific as possible whether this a program for an individual soldier or for a unit. It's very important from the outset to have a clear and thorough understanding of the specific features of the your conditioning work This will drive all fitness testing and provide clear guidance as to what type of fitness test you need to prioritise.
  2. Preassesment - Fitness testing in the preassesment phase will allow the conditioning expert to know the basic level of the individual soldier or group. It will also allow for accurate exercise prescription and give further guidance in later fitness testing. This will also allow the conditioning expert to evaluate the usefulness of a particular battery of fitness tests enabling the them to gain insight as the whether or not they need to substitute a fitness test or devise a completely new more relevant fitness test.
  3. Programming of training - Based on the fitness tests you have performed in the previous two phases you will now have everything needed create a conditioning program that will make the core of your "Physical Readiness Training".
  4. Postassesment - This phase is to evaluate the progress of you fitness training along specific aspects of your program. Any fitness test used during this phase will develop and build on some specific elements used during the previous two fitness testing phases. Any adjustments to programming will be made during this phase.
  5. Evaluation -This tskes the results of a previous fitness test or round of fitness testing alongside looking the details of the programming itself in order to assess the core quality of the training delivered.
There are different types of fitness testing formats available but in to get the best performance from any military fitness program you need a form of fitness testing referred to as "Formative Evaluation". This type of evaluation allows for a greater degree of control and provides a deeper insight into the program effects.

Military training and operational preparation is something entirely different from any other activity and needs an in depth approach to looking at and evaluating program. Also given the high intensity nature of military training, fitness tests allow the ideal motivational stimulation if used correctly.

A competitive score on a fitness test can be a real push, especially if you believe you missed your best.

What type of fitness tests are effective for military fitness testing?

As with any military fitness programs you need to know if the fitness test you use or plan to undertake is going to be appropriate for your specific military needs. But there are so many available, not all are good and not all right for your particular needs.

In order to filter out what counts as ineffective vs. effective fitness testing you need to look at the 3 factors of Validity, Reliability and Objectivity:
  1. Validity - There is a very simple question you need to ask when considering a fitness test apply in your fitness testing-Does this test measure what it was designed to measure? To do this you need to need to be very specific about what content you want to measure if you're measuring mobility or agility under load then you need a test that will allow you measure this under an accurate combat load. You also need to ask yourself if there is some current military standard, and you do this with research, as in most cases you will be able to find how another armed force or military conditioning expert has scored the same test. This will enable you to measure and score the correct factor in the correct way. The use of a fitness test as valid predictive measure of future military performance should also be considered when selecting or devising a fitness test. Can your fitness test be transferred to future combat performance or future predicting  of physical capacity? Military performance often happens as strings of skills and to know how measure this effectively ask yourself if your fitness test will measure performance for one skill as a deconstructed "part" or the whole performance pattern.
  2. Reliability - This aspect focuses on consistency and efficiency in measuring the desired factor of conditioning and also can the test be repeated with a similar range and variance of score. The same soldier taking the same test twice at the same stage of training will show little variance in result if the test is reliable. Can the fitness test be repeated effectively and consistently measure the same aspect of conditioning effectively each time? This should be a central question in your consideration of designing protocols for military fitness testing.
  3. Objectivity - This relates to the quality of the scoring method in your fitness testing and the amount of human judgement that appears in the scoring process. The scoring method should be set up to allow different testers to take the test and arrive the same result. There should be no decision as to whether or not a fitness testing effort should count. The scoring method should make this a clear as possible. If the fitness test is not objective and leaves space for human decision then you need to rethink and revise the scoring method of the test. This kind of objectivity is also essential when you will testing different groups of soldiers with the same method. It will prevent bias from creeping int he results. You can't any personal commitment or biases in any fitness test. Preventing any personal interest or interest in any particular soldier or unit is a must especially when the test scores impact any official ruling such as selection, profiling or rehabilitation and fitness for duty testing.

How do you design a military fitness testing protocol?

Assuming you have a basic understanding of the components of military fitness, I am going to tell you how to select, plan and administer your fitness testing protocol. If you don't fully understand these factors then I suggest you research and clarify exactly which factor it is you will be measuring.

Here are some points you can use to select the appropriate fitness test and enable your military fitness testing to be effective:
  1. What age am I testing? Not every soldier you test will be the same age. Some will be younger recruits and some will be in the later stages of service. Even thsse joining for this first period of service may be to the older end of the recruitment age limit.
  2. Gender specific testing - Some tests for male soldiers, such as those for strength, may be applicable to female recruits and must therefore be looked at.
  3. Operational Standard - A more complex fitness test of test featuring linked skills may be adequate for elite soldiers or those through training but they care unreliable to those of a lower standard. This needs to be taken into account as experience and ability will affect the measurement you receive from a fitness test.
  4. Environmental Considerations - The way you would prepare for operations in different environments will not be the same,similarly there maybe reasons in your environment which forces you to adapt to use a different fitness test.
  5. Operational Specialty - Is there a particular unit or assignment within a particular unit? Is it a specific unit with needs aside from the basic standard required?
  6. Unbiased Testing - This means your test should focused on the operational activity you were trained for and for the specific requirements of the activity you're training for. This requires a very specific knowledge of the unique skills and skill components to be measured.
Whatever type of fitness testing program you want to set up, it's very important that the one vital factor is tested above all and this is - can the operator perform the task they are trained for?

If you aim for the following 10 criteria as guideline when devising a fitness test, you will enable correct information to be received from your fitness testing for future conditioning:
  1. Measure all skill component and specific abilities.
  2. Involve realistic military situations and environments.
  3. It should demand strict operational procedure and operating technique.
  4. It should be capable of providing measurements for each individual operator.
  5. It should contain mental challenges and meaning in line with the specific combat situation.
  6. It be of the correct difficulty for the operational level of the soldier involved.
  7. It should differentiate between specific tasks, roles and operational functions.
  8. Scoring should be accurate and objective.
  9. It should be repeatable and allow a specific number of retakes.
  10. Should be judged by statistical evidence and correctness of operational procedure, technique and form.

Military Fitness Testing Procedures

I am now going to talk you through some of the military fitness testing procedures used in NATO/International countries to test both basic and advanced level fitness in soldiers across many armed forces branches.

There are many differing national forces in NATO and they all have a different philosophy and area of focus and as such when they select a fitness test this philosophy will guide any fitness testing to be performed. Each nations ideas has an influence on what kind of fitness tests they promote. I am going to present differing aspects of each in order to illustrate to you some ideas used by elite and non-elite forces.

In order to be effective many NATO Special Forces will provide a variety of performance based fitness tests and all will provide standard fitness tests used by many countries across many platforms such as the 1.5 mile run, press up and sit up tests. However some are more performance based and specific that that.

The Danish Military Fitness Testing Protocol

One nation with high quality expertise in the area of military fitness testing is Denmark. Their program is one of highly performance orientated work that warrants closer study as a case to consider in improving your fitness testing expertise.

In 2009, the Danish "Military Centre for Physical Training" conducted a study into the physical demands off all active combat operations ongoing at the time including Afghanistan, one of the most demanding military confrontations to date. The Danish experts took in vast amounts of insight and data from expert investigation teams on the ground, commanders and the soldiers serving under them. This enabled them to formulate new concepts, programs and focus areas.

They focused on three core areas:
  1. Heavily Performance Orientated Approach
  2. Training in ways that also maintain health
  3. Preventing injury to maintain peak operational performance
A soldiers operational requirements are influenced by many factors such as climate, load, fluid availability, task frequency, operational tempo and duration.This added to the massive considerations of terrain and enemy. It is essential that soldiers possess not only a high basic standard of conditioning but also the correct performance orientated conditioning in order to meet demands of combat. Modern soldiers with a high physical capability are referred to as military athletes or tactical athletes.

All soldiers in the Danish military are subject to the same fitness tests and fitness testing protocol set out as follows:
  1. Core Fitness Testing - Each soldier in Army, Navy and Air force is put through the same battery of core fitness tests and instructed to meet a minimum of level 3 on this block.
  2. All soldiers of the Army undergo block A,B,C and D of fitness tests while the Navy and Air force perform only A,B and C. Each block is graded on a 0-5 scale. The fitness tests are carried out by the unit commander and the commander may instruct fitness testing on his unit any time he chooses. In line with injury prevention procedures each soldier is familiarised with each fitness test.

Danish Armed Forces Fitness Tests

Core fitness tests with pass levels at level 3:
  1. Side Plank right/left 90 second hold
  2. Back Bridge right/left 60 seconds hold
  3. Back extension static hold 2 minutes 15 seconds
  4. 90 Degree static sit up hold 1 minute 45 seconds
  5. Alternation lunges 20kg weight 40 reps for pass
 Aerobic fitness tests with pass at level 3:
  1. 12 Minute run test - number of meters in distance you can run in 12 minutes 2750m to pass
  2. 20m Shuttle run - 12.8 to pass
 Combination aerobic and anaerobic fitness tests with pass at level 3:
  1. 20m Shuttle test with rest pause of 10 seconds between shuttles 17.5 to pass
  2. Danish military speed tests 60 rounds to pass 
Muscular fitness tests with pass at level 3:
  1. Lunges - 30 reps continuously with 40kg load in 2 minutes to pass
  2. Dips 8 reps 1 minute to pass
  3. Pull up 8 reps in 1 minute to pass
  4. Dead lift 6 reps 80kg in 1 minute
  5. Plank 120 second hold carrying 10 kg weight to pass
Functional endurance test with a pass at level 3:
  1. All soldiers must pass 2km march (no running allowed) followed by a 500m obstacle course and another 2km march while carrying a load of 25kg. 55 minutes is the accepted pass at level 3.
    This fitness testing procedure has been shown to be one of the most valid and reliable of all military fitness testing procedures on a international level. Although it is relatively new the format undergoes only very minor adjustments by instructors in order to ensure there is a hint of the unexpected. There are also some very good functional fitness tests administered in Eastern European countries.

    Russian and Eastern European Fitness Tests

    A basic Spetsnaz test includes the following fitness tests:
    1. 3km run in full load completed within 20 minutes(very similar to some basic UK fitness tests)
    2. 18 dead hang pull ups with a 10 kg load
    3. 3 x 5m rapid rope climb no feet allowed
    4. 500m obstacle course with 14 obstacles 
    5. A cold weapon throw to the chest of opponent at least 6m away
    6. 10km pack march(very similar to basic UK forces load march test)
    7. Alternating rounds of  hand to hand fighting
    8. Body weight circuit 1 (similar to US grinder PT)
    9. Body weight circuit 2(similar to US grinder PT)
    Body weight circuit 1 performed 10 times all the way through:
    1. Push ups
    2. Burpees
    3.  Leg raises 
    4. Squat jumps
    Body weight circuit 2 perform in two stages:
    1.  Pull ups 15 minimum
    2. Split squat jumps 75 minimum
    3. Push ups 50 minimum 
    Stage 2 after short rest:
    1. Sit ups 2 minutes max -75 reps
    2. Burpees 35 reps

    Israel "Bar Or" Fitness Test

    Invented by Professor Oded Bar Or this test is performed 3 times at the beginning, middle and end of basic training in order to provide a simple battery of fitness tests that can be administered anywhere.

    "Bar Or" fitness test:
    1. Max sit ups until failure without stopping- if you stop for more than 2 seconds the fitness test is stopped
    2. Push ups performed as above 
    3. Pull ups performed as above
    4. 2000m run

    Future Military Fitness Testing

    There are many methods and tests I can explain to you. Some are older, like the IDF test, and some, like the Danish fitness tests, are newer and more sophisticated. Each example shown provides a snapshot of how different military forces in different countries approach fitness testing.

    If armed forces around the world are to provide the correct support for operators and soldiers there is a need to progress and enhance testing. This allows conditioning to be delivered most effectively to the point it matters most - the operator. Comprehensive and high quality fitness testing is only one tool in the kit of experts with regards to operator focused conditioning.


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